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Saturday, December 2, 2023
NOTL Rotary launches polio education campaign

Renowned polio fighter speaks virtually to 60 district Rotary clubs


When Syme Jago spoke to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Rotary Club last year about her decades-long personal fight against post-polio syndrome, the 76 local members vowed to build an education campaign to help others understand the insidious disease.

“I told my story and my journey,” says Jago. “That seemed to be the catalyst for the club to say: ‘We need to move this to a broader level of understanding.’ ”

So it was, that Jago, a community partner in the club’s polio campaign, invited Dr. Richard Bruno, one of the world’s acknowledged authorities on post-polio syndrome to speak to not only the NOTL club, but through video conferencing, 60 other clubs in the cross-border district of the organization.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, Bruno will address the combined audience during the regular Rotary lunchtime meeting. The public is welcome to join the video conference. To connect to the meeting, contact: info@niagaraonthelakerotary.ca. The presentation will also be posted later to the club website.

The event will launch the Rotary’s post-polio education initiative.

Barb Babij, chair of the polio education subcommittee of the NOTL Rotary club, says, “We wanted to make World Polio Day more than a single day. We wanted people to become aware more generally. We need to educate younger members, the medical community — the whole community.”

Jago is a polio survivor but lives with post-polio syndrome.

There are more than a million people like her in North America and many millions more around the world. She is aware of at least eight other people with post-polio syndrome in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

She contracted polio as a young girl. With the help of a determined mother, she fought off the disease to become an accomplished child actor and internationally recognized event producer.

But in her early thirties, she began to notice things were not quite right. She experienced extreme fatigue, debilitating headaches, difficulty swallowing and breathing, fogginess and inability to control her muscles.

These are the same symptoms experienced by as many as 75 per cent of polio survivors, typically 35 or 40 years after the poliovirus attack.

She fought on, building her career, constantly searching for someone, anyone, who could explain her symptoms and ease the constant awareness that her body was betraying her.

She found Dr. Richard Bruno.

Over the past 30 years Bruno, has become the foremost authority on post-polio syndrome in the world, a leader in the international development of diagnosis and mitigation. He has studied and treated over 7,000 polio survivors. He is the founder and director of the International Centre for Polio Education.

Although Jago has never met Bruno in person, they regularly communicate by email and through online support groups with fellow survivors.

In a telephone interview with The Lake Report, Bruno expressed the irony of the moment: that a current viral epidemic is preventing him from coming to Canada to speak about a viral epidemic 70 years ago.

He sees his role as education: “Education for polio survivors. Education for the medical community. Education and advocating for governments.”

There is no cure for post-polio syndrome, he notes. “It is not a disease. It is the response of the damages caused by the polio and what the healthy body had to do to keep up.”

On Oct. 19, Bruno will direct his comments, “COVID-19 — Polio déjà vu,” to a comparison between polio and COVID.

“What are the messages that we can glean from these two conditions. What does polio teach us about COVID?”

Babij hopes Bruno will also help with the next steps of the club’s education campaign, engaging the medical community. “We need to connect with doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, nurse practitioners — and beyond.”

Since 1988, Rotary International has been at the forefront of the campaign to eradicate polio everywhere, raising over $1 billion to vaccinate two billion children worldwide.

The End Polio Now campaign continues that fight with Rotary fundraising projects around the world.

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